Unwanted objects can be the culprit of distraction and at many times, unavoidable when taking a photo. Traditionally, to remove these objects the clone stamp tool in Photoshop was the most viable option. However a new tool was introduced into Photoshop CS5 and up called Content-Aware Fill, which at many instances defeats the clone tool for it is quicker and does a better job at rendering a more natural result.

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove Distractions

The functionality behind the content aware fill tool is that it samples and surveys the image, figuring out what the photo might have appeared like had the distracting feature never been there. This tool is best used at removing objects that have a similar surrounding…skies and grass, for instance.

How to use Content Aware Fill

I once posted this photo of the Grand Tetons to Topaz’s Facebook page and somebody commented, “I’d like it more if there wasn’t a car”.  My original thoughts on leaving the car untouched was to signify that mother nature is a powerful force, as I was inspired at the time by Daoist landscape paintings where the human is depicted at a smaller scale than the landscape in front of it.

However, if you find the car is distracting and prefer a landscape void of human significance, here’s how you can remove it using the content aware fill tool:

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove Distractions1.  Outline the unwanted object with the Polygonal Lasso Tool. Make sure that the selection is loose rather than tight around the subject.

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 3.08.38 PM

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove Distractions2. Go to Edit-> Fill and select Content-Aware.

Content Aware3. Press Ok and you’ll see that the content-aware successfully removed the car by replacing it with surrounding areas of the image.

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove Distractions4. To remove the lasso selection, press ctrl/cmd + D.

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove DistractionsThis may not work the first time, but do not give up! Content aware fill will often choose different sections of the image to sample from. So if you get a funky result the first time, try it again and you might find that it works. A looser rather than tight selection around the object is key. It also helps to have similar surrounding areas, such as the foliage in the foreground.

When content aware fill doesn’t exactly work

Here’s an example of what you can do when the content aware fill tool doesn’t do its job 100%. In the image below there’s some pesky construction that was unavoidable when the image was captured, along with other distracting elements, including tents from a local farmers’ market that day.

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove DistractionsI used the content aware fill tool to remove the construction in the upper right corner. As you can see, this was not a perfect compute:

Polygonal Lasso outline:

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove Distractions

After content aware fill compute:

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove DistractionsI then zoomed in and reapplied the same steps over using the content aware fill, until the distracting features were reduced to a minimum, leaving me with this to work with:

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove DistractionsHere’s how you can resolve this sort of problem:

1. Save the image as a different file under a different name. For demonstration purposes, I will call this new file, “PearlBrew”.

2. Open the file “PearlBrew” in Photoshop.

3. Go to Image-> Image Rotation-> Flip Canvas Horizontal.

4. Select the Rectangular Marquee Tool.

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 5.31.07 PM5. Make a selection of the right side of the structure that doesn’t have the construction remains attached.

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove Distractions6. Press ctrl/cmd + J to separate the selection onto a new layer. Name that layer “New Selection”.

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 9.12.17 AM7. Select the “New Selection” (on the image, not the actual layer) and drag it over to the original image you were working on.

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove Distractions8. Go to your layers panel and reduce the opacity of the layer “New Selection” to around 50% so that you can see the original image underneath it.

9. Zoom in and try and match up the selection with the layer underneath. You may need to rotate the image to align it (ctrl/cmd + T).

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove Distractions10. Once everything has been lined up, use the eraser tool to erase the excess sky. When you’ve erased all that you can, bring the opacity of the “New Selection” layer back up to 100%.

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove Distractions11. Use the shift key to select both the “New Selection” layer and the layer copy underneath. Right click and select “Merge Layers”.

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove Distractions12. For the next part, I used the content aware tool one last time to remove the discoloration in the sky, which helped, but not 100%.

This is where you can use the clone stamp tool for areas that refuse to disappear via content-aware fill. When working with edges, use the Quick Selection Tool to outline areas of the sky, but not the building.

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 1.41.56 PM

The quick selection will act like a sealed door, not allowing any clone stamp adjustments to seep through the selected boundary.

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove Distractions13. Use the clone stamp tool to clone in the unnatural areas of sky around the building. I reduced the opacity of the clone stamp to around 75% for more natural blending.

As you can see the construction has now been successfully removed:

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove DistractionsThere’s still a few distracting features outlined below. I noted the methods that I used to remove them:

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove DistractionsAfter adjustments:

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove DistractionsNow that the image has been technically fixed, its time to make a few last photo adjustments.  The colors in the building seem rather dull and tan, which is typical San Antonio architecture. To make the colors more vivid, I brought the image into Topaz ReStyle and applied the “Camo Olive” preset found in the Architecture collection. The opacity was then reduced to 45% to make the effect less intense:

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove DistractionsThe image was then taken into Topaz Lens Effects where I applied a Geometric Distortion effect. I wanted the image to look like I took it at eye level (from a higher point), so I used the Tilt Down II preset to shift the image, making it seem like the image wasn’t shot at a lower angle.

The photo was finalized for output by bringing it into Topaz Detail where I  increased the small detail slider to bring out the texture in the bricks, added a bit more saturation and adjusted the temperature to be a bit cooler.

Using Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill Tool to Remove DistractionsAs you can see, the methods used to remove objects will vary depending on the image. I hope that this tutorial has provided you with some ideas about the ways you can remove distracting objects using the available tools in Photoshop.

One last tool I did not mention is the Content Aware Spot Healing Brush Tool, which works better at removing items like blemishes, scratches, tears and other small objects with similar surrounding areas. In the Grand Tetons image this tool could have just as well been used, since there’s similar surrounding foreground for it to sample and the car is small enough to zap with one click.

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 11.46.20 AMHowever, for the Pearl Brewery architecture image, the spot healing content aware tool does not work. Since I’m working with bricks that need to be aligned perfectly the clone stamp tool works better because I can select exactly where the next brick will line up. And then the content aware fill tool works better at removing large objects like the crane, which have similar surroundings that do not need precise aligning.

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